“From my mother’s womb…” Both the prophet Isaiah and the psalmist reference for us today the silent mystery of our beginnings, and God’s ever-present influence throughout the span of our lives. Both these writers remind us that God’s care and empowering grace have been acting on us before we knew ourselves or had a conscious thought. Even before any human being knew us or loved us, God was at work in us: giving us our unique identity, calling us to be servants, and strengthening us to rise above adversity.
John’s gospel brings us to that table of the Last Supper, but not for the breaking of bread or washing of feet, those enduring and powerful symbols of presence and selfless service which we will recount later this week. Instead, the behind-the-scenes drama moves front and center: intrigue among disciples, predictions of betrayal, treacherous deeds set in motion, false promises of solidarity. Jesus is deeply troubled, and rightly so. It is a moment of crisis, and an interpersonal mess. Is it possible that Jesus, like Isaiah, felt that he had toiled in vain and uselessly spent his strength? Is it possible that Jesus, like the psalmist, felt that he was put to shame, in need of rescue, safety, and deliverance from wicked forces? Quite possible.
And still, Jesus, deeply troubled, summons a deeper wisdom. “From my mother’s womb…” Jesus knew the sort of care and grace that Isaiah describes: God giving an identity and a vocation of service. Jesus knew the sort of care and grace that the psalmist describes: God giving strength and ability to act with justice in all circumstances. Jesus leaned into this care and grace with the full force of his being, which enabled him to love until the end.
Was this same care and grace available to Judas, Peter, and the Beloved Disciple? Yes! In this short space I cannot speak to their individual choices made in the complexity of their humanity. Judas, especially, was such a severe scandal to the early church that the evangelist made sense of it for his community by attributing this betrayal to Satan’s influence. I will say that in all of it, the Beloved Disciple – that one who perhaps trusted and grounded in Jesus’ love more than any other – did remain close, closest, even to the foot of the cross.
Is this same care and grace available to us who follow in the footsteps of Isaiah, psalmist, Jesus, and faltering disciples? Yes! This is a moment of crisis for sure, for all of us. While universal in scope, it is also very personal and we’re each impacted according to the circumstance of our lives. We’re all hurting in some way. Still and always, God is at work in us: confirming our deepest identity, forming us for service of others, kindling the courage that we have the capacity to weather this storm. Lean in, my friends.
Bill McNamara, Campus Minister for Liturgical Music